Swap Super funds, make a giving budget, recycle water for flushing… these are some great commitments not achieved by my Household Covenant.

It’s 2012: I’ve just finished up at a proper job and Marita and I have taken in an Iraqi refugee, a young woman, named Shahad. We have scored a sweet deal on a low rent run-down Footscray house and I’ve just had a three month sabbatical visiting Bartimaeus Co-operative Ministries (BCM) in LA and returned home dreaming “What next?”
This expressed itself in the following, I’m sure annoying, way:

“At BCM I learned about cover crops and installed a timed irrigation system.   At BCM they shower over a bucket then use that water to flush. At BCM leftovers were upcycled into a new and different meal the next day so nothing was wasted. At BCM they don’t let you watch TV… they don’t even have a TV!”

…when the Household Covenanting series came up it seemed like a good way for my housemates and I to go on a journey together exploring ways of living sustainably and agreeing together on what some expressions of that might look like.

Where to start? Find meaningful part time work. One day per week in Footscray, no car, no screens. I don’t know about meaningful but I got an ABN and did contract administration – talk about part time – some weeks I had six days to be present in Footscray! While this part time lifestyle opened up opportunity for great projects (do maintenance on rental property – exceed minimum obligation, support Shahad, plant daffodils and tulips) it also wrought huge changes, suddenly go dumpstering is a weekly economic necessity, get piano lessons (subject to someone else’s expertise) isn’t financially viable and Marita’s family tradition of donating first income (giving this away as first fruits as gratitude to God) seems naive in the face of my irregular income. We imagined this spreadsheet tracking the-real-coffees-I-didn’t-drink forming, in part, the budget for our sustainability initiatives but I am instead dependent on the beneficence of my own friends charity to pick up my tab if they want a cafe catch up… This, THIS was in some ways where the real work/learning on savings, debt and poverty took place as I came to have a real and personal understanding of doing without – doing without ‘real’ coffee and inviting people to my home instead; doing without the safety buffer in my savings account led me, in fear and desperation, to rely on God’s providing and I received it in many ways and from sources I could not have imagined; doing without eating whatever I wanted when I felt like it and instead connecting with food seasonally by consuming food grown ourselves, sourced from Sharing Abundance[1] and dumpstered… I had to learn preserving methods, humble myself to let others pay for coffee, and give even though you don’t know where your next income is coming from. These are some great commitments achieved by my Household Covenant …and I didn’t even have them written down.

I could not have foreseen that supporting Shahad might mean leaving lights on across the house overnight to manage her fear of the dark over my desire to reduce power consumption (darn that was meant to be one of my easy ones). That my aim to buy second hand is overruled by her desire to have nice, new things that are her own for the first time in her life (we took her to IKEA for her birthday last year and she LOVED it!). Now I could understand what Jon meant when he told us ‘…the rule serves me, not me it’. My middle-class, educated reasoned choices to dabble in downward mobility cannot mean much to someone who has never had many of the choices and opportunities I have been given and part of my covenant should be to work to redress that imbalance. Perhaps I have not strictly achieved everything I set out to do but I am not unhappy with where I’ve ended up instead.

I do not know what will happen if you attempt a Household Covenant but I doubt you will be disappointed or find the attempt uninteresting… we plant daffodils and tulips every year now, although we moved house just last month and the bulbs were just tips pushing through the ground and we won’t be there to see them bloom, I wrote this: 007

“Reflecting today on the things we plant in the hopes of fruit to come.  We believe in planting so we do it but ultimately we have very little control over what grows and who it belongs to.  The pain is in our awareness of this and our discipline is planting anyway – even though we’re tired and someone else may receive the benefit of our careful tending, someone else may not like the plants we’ve chosen or where we positioned them and tear them out like weeds.  The thing that I value is only valued by others if they want it themselves.  What I grieve for, is not this house, much like another having four walls and a roof, but the harvest hoped for here that will not be realised by me. There is a large harvest, but few workers to gather it in.  Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.”

Those little shoots felt like a metaphor for walking away from the sense of home we created in that place and the practices started that we now wouldn’t follow through. I hope God is sending me you, you know, not to go round and pick my ACTUAL daffodils, but to be a fellow worker in the field.

New housemates, new street, new garden… perhaps it is time for a new covenant.

“Hey, …Marita? …Shahad? …Ana & Atticus? You guys want to head to Ceres for some bulbs?!”

[1] www.sharingabundance.org is a food rescue initiative whereby produce is rescued from backyards and shared between homeowners, volunteers who pick and local community food programmes.

{a nicer – edited! – version of this article appeared in the Dec14 Manna Matters newsletter.  Go straight to the source and find out more about Household Covenants at the Manna Gum website}